No. 43 Pilot Flying J Ford Mustang
• Michael Annett started Saturday’s 200-mile race in the 12th position
• Annett finished the 200-lap event at the Dover, Del., track in third place, tying his career-best finish
• Annett’s top-three finish moves him to within 10 points of fifth place in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver point standings
Race Summary: Michael Annett started the OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway from the 12th position. Running lap times comparable to the leader from the drop of the green flag Annett moved into the 11th spot at Lap 33. With no complaints early in the race, Annett maintained his position until the competition caution flew on Lap 47. Just prior to coming into the pits for his first stop of the day, Annett told crew chief Philippe Lopez that the Pilot Flying J Ford was tight in traffic and loose in clean air. Lopez called for four tires, fuel and a slight air pressure adjustment during the initial stop. Several cars elected to only take two tires and Annett lined up for the restart in 12th.
Annett slid to the bottom of the track on the restart and quickly gained two positions at the drop of the green flag, before eventually slipping back one and settling in at 11th. Annett continued to run consistent lap times and remained in 11th for the next 40 laps. At Lap 98 Annett had slipped back two positions and was running in 13th when he communicated to his crew that he needed the front of the No. 43 to turn better and more rear grip.
Just past the halfway mark of the 200-lap race, Annett came into the pits for the second and final time on Lap 118. In an attempt to make the front turn better, Lopez called for wedge and air pressure adjustments. A lightning-quick stop by the Pilot Flying J crew gained Annett two positions in the pits and he restarted in 11th.
Annett slipped back one position to 12th on the restart before making his charge toward the front of the field. Still running fast lap times, Annett methodically made his way through the field and was running in the sixth position when the third and final caution flag of the day flew on Lap 178. With the leaders electing not to pit, Annett remained on the track under caution and restarted in sixth with less than 20 laps remaining.
Just two laps after the restart, Annett powered his way to the third position and was running lap times faster than the leader. With just a few laps remaining, Annett was able to maintain his third-place position and came home with his second top-three finish of the year.
Annett’s third-place effort ties his career-best finish from earlier this season in Daytona and marks his sixth-consecutive top-10 finish. Saturday’s stellar finish also allowed Annett to gain some ground on fifth-place Justin Allgaier in the points. Annett now sits just 10 points out of fifth place in the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings.
The Nationwide Series will take a well-deserved off-weekend this week and return to racing action at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday, Oct. 12, under the lights at the famed 1.5-mile speedway.
Annett’s Thoughts after the Race: “I’m really proud of my Pilot Flying J team. We worked really hard today and the results showed it. We were fortunate on that restart with the way things played out. We would like to drive up there, but the run right before that caution we were probably the fastest car on the track. We restarted 11th and were driving up to sixth and still pushing forward when that last caution came out. Regardless we still got another top-five. We’ll take it because our best finish up to this point was third at Daytona, so to get one here on a track where you really have to earn it is pretty cool and a testament to our team that we’re still getting better. We haven’t leveled off, we aren’t happy with consistent top-10s, we want consistent top fives and to just keep getting better. I get asked a lot when we’re going to get that first win and I always say you have to be in position. If you get yourself in the first three rows of a late-race restart, then you have a chance for a win and that’s what we did. We had good pit stops and had a really good run leading up to that caution and put ourselves in that position. We jumped on it and had a good enough car to hold off two other guys in the top five. We’ve got five more chances to get a win before the season is over and that’s exactly what we are going to try and do.”
Annett’s Post-Race Press Conference:
WHAT HAS BEEN THE KEY TO SUCH A GOOD SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON? “It was kind of fun, but also disappointing last week to go back to Kentucky and finish seventh and be let down by that. I think that has really shown a difference to where our Pilot Flying J team was at the start of the year to where it is now. We’re not satisfied unless we’re coming home with top-five finishes. Obviously, we’re still looking for that first win, but we’re still getting better while a lot of teams are leveling out. We just keep getting better and for a team that’s coming back next year to run for a championship this is the best thing we could have. I know we’re not going to like the off-season, but we’ve still got five left here to hopefully get into the top five in points. Obviously we came in, I think, about 36 behind the No. 31 car. You hate to wish bad luck upon anybody, but to see a car pull off and know it’s the guy you’re chasing in points, we knew we were going to have a good points day if we stayed out of trouble. Coming away with minus two on gaining the most we could is definitely a good day for us.”
WHEN DID YOU KNOW THE 18 WAS THE CAR TO BEAT? “I didn’t know that until the last restart because that was the only time I could see him. I think we knew before we even got here that he was the car to beat just looking at his performance here last time. Every time you come to Dover you know the Gibbs cars, whether they bring two or three, and just like today they were definitely really strong. Joey obviously was the best. We’re chasing for fifth in points and it doesn’t matter where the leader is if we can see a car in front of us that we know is a points-paying position, we’re going to drive as hard as we can for it. Even there at the end when I was trying to hold the No. 2 off, I could still see the No. 33 and knew that would be one more point, but we just weren’t as good as he was.”
WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP AS FAR AS GETTING TO VICTORY LANE? “I think each time I get to race up there with these guys I’ve got a shot. I might think I have a winning race car at the end of practice or halfway through the race, and then you restart up there with someone like the No. 18, with the 33 trying to run them down there for the last 20 laps of the race, and I realize I can’t catch them. I could see where they were beating me, so it’s just things like that, that I need to learn from and improve upon. All year I’ve been saying we need to qualify better. We were kind of stuck in the 16th-20th and now we’ve kind of bumped that up to about 8th-12th and it’s making our days a lot easier and we know what kind of car we have earlier. If we can keep improving in qualifying and just get more and more experience in laps up there in the top five, I’m going to know what kind of car I need rather than just trying to guess for it.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE LACK OF CAUTIONS AND DID IT HURT YOU AS FAR AS NOT BEING ABLE TO ADJUST MORE ON YOUR CAR? “We always have some long green flag runs here. I really wasn’t expecting a green-flag stop and wasn’t looking forward to one. This is probably the hardest pit road we have all season, so to see that caution come out about two laps before we were coming was good for us. Normally with a restart like we saw today with 20 to go, we see guys stack up and cars are on their sides going down pit wall and things like that, but things worked out today.”